Understanding the Prague Spring and what happened
History shows hundreds of people died in the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Perhaps we’ll never really know how many.
But we do know that a large number of them were callously run over by Russian tanks and war machines.
This was the “normalisation” of society by the USSR and life became a kind of internal exile for citizens for many years to come.
On August 21, 50 years ago the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia killed the dreams of Dubcek’s reformers, broke the spirit of a nation and whisked in an era of oppression.
And more than any event during the so-called Cold War, this invasion showed the world the totalitarian nature of the Soviet regime.
It may seem obvious with hindsight that the countries that fell under the cloak of Soviet influence after World War II were doomed to be victims of oppression.
At the end of the war Europe had been basically cut in half.
Russia was largely allowed to get on with oppression behind its Red Curtain because the Western world too was in turmoil.
The youth was in psychedelic revolt, Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr were murdered. And the Vietnam War raged on pointlessly.
The problem was that for four months in 1968 Czechoslovakia had broken free, allowing freedom of speech and removing some state controls.
This period is now referred to as the Prague Spring.
Then the Soviet Union led Warsaw Pact troops headed the invasion of Czechoslovakia to crack down on the reformist in Prague. The Soviet Union spilt blood and spread terror to successfully halt the pace of reform.
Finally though, the Communists were pushed from power during the Velvet Revolution in November 1989.
It was then that Slovak leaders began talking openly about eventually creating a separate country. And against the wishes of many of its citizens, Czechoslovakia split into two countries, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Many believe the split of Czechoslovakia worked better for Slovakia. Many Czechs saw it as a partial loss of national identity.
The Slovaks however, now appear a more confident nation and the EU is seen as an essential part of both country’s integration with the rest of the world.
Finally both are staring varying degrees of success in the face.